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I have social anxiety. It is diagnosed and I have received medical treatment for this.

Interviews can be a trigger for my panic attacks. These involve crying uncontrollably, shaking, skin conditions (e.g. rashes), hyperventilating, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, can't think or speak, fainting.

How can I save face after having a serious panic attack in an interview? Is this even possible? Should I send an apology along with the follow-up "thank you" email for having a panic attack in an interview? Should I explain what happened? Should I explain how this wouldn't impact my role if I did get this job? How should I phrase this correspondence? Should I send no follow-up at all and just forget about it?

For context, here are details of an interview I would like to apologise for:

Dream job, great company that I really wanted to work for. It was a ~seven hour journey to their offices, so I couldn't do my usual plan of doing a test run and on the day I got lost so I was a bit late.

I have a panic attack after sitting down, just after calmly smiling and shaking hands with the 3 interviewers. I'm crying, shaking/etc and an interviewer brings me of the room. She gives me tissues and a few moments. She asks if I can come back later as they need to be strict with time-keeping as they have many people to interview today. I have tickets booked home, I can't stay and I panic a bit more, but am able to say that to her (I think?). She brings me back in, but I can't really answer the questions and what I do say is nonsense. I'm being lead out the door of the offices still crying and I then have a series of panic attacks throughout the day, including fainting.

I didn't tell them I had social anxiety prior to the interview. Honestly, I didn't think this would happen. I had a group interview with the same company before this one where we did a fun presentation (public speaking, spontaneous problem-solving, working in groups, etc) - I was 100% fine with all that and really enjoyed it.


I am aware of one similar question to this, but it is very specific to writing an apology letter. I am looking for general tips on how to recover and save face after having a panic attack in an interview and hopefully still move forward with the job process. There's also another thread dealing with panic attacks during the interviews and pre-interview prep, but again not post-interview. So, I think I have reason to ask my own separate question.

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    I presume you have spent time working with friends/counselors roleplaying/rehersing interviews. Nothing reduces stress like knowing you have canned answers to most of the likely questions. If you're still living near your alma mater, colleges often make placement-office resources of that sort available to alumni as well as recent grads. – keshlam Oct 4 '16 at 15:36
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    Sorry to say, but I think you got your one chance at this job and it's over. – WorkerDrone Oct 4 '16 at 15:45
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    @murph33 - an apology email isn't likely to help you get a future job there. Just hope that they don't remember you if you apply and get an interview down the road. – WorkerDrone Oct 4 '16 at 15:52
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    This recent question from the interviewer's side of things might be helpful – barrowc Oct 5 '16 at 23:27
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    @barrowc thanks for the link to that Q&A, a useful insight. Nice to see such sympathetic hiring staff and hope I happen across people like that in the future. – murph33 Oct 6 '16 at 16:34
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You didn't get this job. You won't get any job in that company. HR will have records of all previous interviews, and they'll know what happened; they won't invite you back.

Emailed apologies etc. won't change that fact. All you can do is move on.

  • Thank you for your answer. I appreciate the honesty and I needed an answer like this. Though, it is hard for me to accept it as I don't want to be defined by a disorder that is out of my control. Since the sector in which I work is so small (in this country anyway), it's even harder still to think one of so few companies is completely lost to me. – murph33 Oct 4 '16 at 21:07
  • Maybe in a few years, things will have changed. Until then, work elsewhere and build up your strengths. – PeteCon Oct 4 '16 at 22:54
  • I disagree. I've been invited for an interview year after being rejected by the same company. If companies believe someone can improve their skills why wouldn't they believe they might feel better mentally after some time? And the awareness of mental health related problems has been raising a lot lately. – Ola M Feb 14 at 11:17
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It's unfortunate that you're plagued by social anxiety and panic attacks in such a fashion. I can't say that job interviews cause panic attacks for me, and in fact my triggers are different (but thankfully rare), but I can understand why it is a problem.

The big issue here is making the interviewer aware of your social anxiety, and to be honest, there isn't really a good way to say it. I'm also sorry to say that Pete is right; you probably didn't bag this one, and an emailed apology isn't going to do much at this point. The company doesn't have time to care, to be honest, and don't take that the wrong way!

I've seen from your comments that you've worked on your panic attacks for a while, and you're absolutely right, there is no rhyme or reason as to why they occur, or when they will occur; the same situation twice-over could have drastically different responses from you. The key thing here is to move on; gain more practice with interviews, become more comfortable in that environment. Focus on what parts of an interview set you off, etc. etc., stuff you've probably heard before.

  • Thank you for such an understanding answer. I'm going to do my best to move on from this. I will consider a few ways of letting potential employers know about my disorder prior to interviews. Normally I leave it out unless application forms explicitly ask about mental health issues. I feel like mentioning it leaves me at a significant disadvantage compared to "healthy" applicants. – murph33 Oct 4 '16 at 21:11
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They don't care, not as a business anyway.

If it makes you feel better you can send a letter to thank for the interview and tell what happened but it won't change anything, in their eyes you're too much of a wildcard.

Right now you need to move on, in the future you can apply again and even address the fact that you were fighting anxiety in the past that you've either overcome at that time or address it if you think there's a chance it might happen again and the outcome of the interview really matters to you.

Off topic to the question, but related to your issue however, I recommend Dale Carnegie's How to stop worrying and start living. It might not solve all of your problems but I'll be damned if it doesn't help up to a certain degree. I'd be interested in hearing your opinion about it if you do.

Good luck in finding a new job, I hope you'll find a window in the future to apply again for the dream job, but right now you need to address the fact that you can't change anything so worrying about this or giving it too much thought is not going to help you. Doing everything that is in your power to get a new job should be your primary focus right now.

  • Thanks for your answer and your encouragement, it's greatly appreciated. I'm focusing my energy on getting the new job rather than worrying about this as much as I can. I've been recommenced that book before a few years ago but never got around to reading it. I'd read so many "self help" books at that stage I wasn't interested in any more. I'll give it a read if I can. – murph33 Oct 5 '16 at 22:00
  • It's the only one I've read, I'm intending to read it again soon, a good tale or lesson can never be told too often. I can't compare it to other books as this is the only one I've read that can be described as "self help". It doesn't hurt to try, that's for sure :) – Jonast92 Oct 6 '16 at 8:21
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I have severe panic disorder myself, so I am not unsympathetic. I am on Ativan four times a day for it, so I do understand. That said, there is nothing that can be done to save face. Anything you do at this point will only make it worse. Consider that door closed, all you can do is learn from this, continue to improve, and move on.

What you can do to help in the future is go on practice interviews. There are professional services that do that, or you can practice with friends. I've read other answers and your comments as well, and yes, the attacks make no sense, and if you're like me, you also end up making them worse by trying to figure them out and you panic over not being able to figure out why your panicking.

What has helped me is repetition, repetition, repetition, and more repetition. After the bottom dropped out of the IT market in 2001, I went on literally dozens of interviews. When it became such a regular occurrence, it began to become mundane. This is why I suggest practice interviews.

I know this is terribly frustrating for you, especially since you've had a door slammed on you. All I can say is if you are really interested in that company, keep applying. There is a chance that anyone who remembers you may just chalk it up to you having a bad day that time. Don't try to explain anything, because people will just take it as making excuses. It's not fair, but it is the way things work.

If you see another opening apply. Someone like me may see your application and figure, well, if this person is brave enough to try again, I'll squeeze them in". Don't lose heart. Just keep trying, and you'll overcome this.

  • Thank you, it's good to get an educated answer from a person familiar with the disorder. I'll focus on continuing to get more interview experience for sure. I mainly do rehearsals with friends as I've had panic attacks doing them with therapists or strangers (e.g. mock interviews with uni career services) but I suppose I shouldn't avoid these and do them regardless of the stress they cause. The interview I mention in the Q was the straw that broke the camel's back for me for a number of reasons, but I'm focusing on moving forward and will apply again in future if another position comes up. – murph33 Oct 5 '16 at 21:38
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I've been in a similar situation many times and firstly I'd just like to say that I'm really sorry it turned out that way and I completely understand how frustrating and embarrassing the whole situation is.

However, I noticed in some of your comments that you mentioned wanting to bring up having panic disorder somewhere in your resume/prior to interviews. I strongly advise against doing this. It might seem like a nice cushion to have under you if you go into an interview and have a fit, but I can guarantee you it'll hurt more than help.

At worst the hiring manager might not give you proper consideration (which is illegal but unfortunately happens). At best it will make you feel better after having a panic attack at an interview but likely will not have any effect on the outcome. I know that it feels safer, but I don't know if the risks are necessarily worth the small boost in confidence.

The only context you would want to disclose that information before an interview is if it in some way benefits you or makes you look like a stronger candidate (i.e. interviewing for a company that provides resources for recovering anxiety/depression sufferers). Even then, you're going to want to present yourself more as a survivor than as a sufferer.

Either way, take some time to recover. Go for a nice walk, or get a cup of coffee. Talk to your doctor, talk to your friends, talk to whoever helps. And most importantly, don't let this hiccup ruin the future. You're already taking great steps to crushing this problem, and you should feel good about that!

  • Thanks for your answer, encouragement and positive language! Disclosing the disorder is something I get many conflicting opinions on. I tend to omit it unless mental health comes up in the application, but many people have been saying I should mention it regardless. I agree with you, in the end, as I do feel at a disadvantage compared to "healthy" applicants if I bring it up. I never mentioned it re; my current employment and haven't had a panic attack at work, nor did I have one in the interviews for that job. – murph33 Oct 5 '16 at 21:48
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The next time you have an interview that could possibly trigger your panic attacks, you need to tell the company about your medical situation ahead of time.

It's a bit of a disability and many companies are required to provide reasonable accommodation for disabilities, as long as you can still do the job. But they can't accommodate you if you hide it. In addition, it should be fair game for them to ask you some questions about it, for the sake of making sure you can do the job (not to pry into your medical history) and for knowing how well they can accommodate you.

As for this situation, it won't hurt, I think, to contact them and explain that you are prone to panic attacks and that you are under treatment. If you do not think that your medical diagnosis will get in the way of you being able to do the job, you need to tell them. Maybe phrase your letter or phone call as saying you regret not bringing this up earlier, but you didn't think it would be an issue due to your successful previous interviews, etc, etc. It sounds like too much time has passed for this round, so you may not be able to get this job now, but maybe in the future they will consider you if another position opens up. I would try calling vs emailing, if possible, because this is a health issue and personal issues are best discussed on the phone.

  • Thanks for your answer. That is a conflicting issue, on disclosing the disorder or not. I haven't disclosed it in any jobs since I've been diagnosed and no co-worker/boss has ever known about it. I see it only as a disadvantage compared to "healthy" applicants. I do think what employers should do vs what they actually do doesn't line up in my favour. Thanks for the advice, although I already received a rejection (and the quickest I've ever received...) I will use your advice in future, esp re; phone calls over emails. – murph33 Oct 5 '16 at 21:54
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You mentioned that you were 100% fine when you did the fun presentation.

Maybe you can try this, imagine when you go for an interview, you are actually going to meet a long lost friend and instead of going for an 'interview', tell yourself, its a pre-planned casual conversation between 2 people. Its just that the conversation topics will be more work related. You can also tell yourself you have nothing to lose, there are many job interviews in the sea!

Also, to relive the stress and anxiety, just before the 'interview', tell yourself you don't really need this job you are interviewing for you are here just for kicks / fun / experience. By doing so, you will relieve the pressure and stress on yourself and should allow you stay calm throughout the conversation.

All the best!

  • Due to the nature of panic attacks, often this sort of angle to mitigating them doesn't work. If I start lying to myself or try to picture an imaginary scenario, I start to overthink and that can lead to panic attacks. I can be calm prior to the interview and feel confident, but still have a panic attack. I think the presentation went well because it's something I've done 100s of times during my five years of university - giving presentations and practical tasks as a team are something I had to get over with practice in uni. Practice makes perfect. – murph33 Oct 7 '16 at 8:04

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